DISEMBARKING after nine days on board a luxurious cruise ship is like being dumped by your first love.
|PICTURE PERFECT: The delightful chocolate box fishing village of Cascais is just one port.[GETTY]|
There are plenty more ships in the sea but bidding adieu to Crystal Serenity left me feeling bereft, as if no other cruise will ever float my boat again.
Like Vegas hotels, cruise ships get bolder every year so although they come bigger than Crystal Serenity, none are more beautiful.
The 1,100-passenger vessel was recently voted the best mid-sized ship for the 20th consecutive year.
My wife Jenny and I were amazed to find Crystal Serenity had undergone a stunning £11million makeover since we last stepped aboard three years ago.
There are pristine indoor and outdoor dining areas as well as extraordinary sights such as the living wall of plants – which even includes the chef’s herb garden.
Stylish new penthouse suites have chic furnishings that wouldn’t look out of place in a boutique hotel and there are 70 specially air-conditioned hypoallergenic cabins.
The ship’s newly expanded all-inclusive offering takes the food and drink experience up yet another notch.
The finest wines, single malts such as Glenlivet and Macallan and lip-smacking cocktails (the Aviator was my pre-dinner tipple of choice) are all included in the price, encouraging guests to try something new every day.
I didn’t order a single vodka and tonic all week.
Serenity has five restaurants which include the elegant Crystal Dining Room with its floor-to-ceiling windows and tables set with Schott Zwiesel crystal, Villeroy & Boch china and crisp linens.
This is where most guests eat lunch and supper.
The menu changes almost daily to include traditional dishes from wherever the ship happens to be.
Speciality restaurant Prego, which has just been remodelled as part of the redesign, serves celebrated Italian cuisine by Piero Selvaggio, owner of the Valentino restaurants in Los Angeles and Las Vegas.
There’s Asian cuisine next door at Silk Road, dished up by chef Nobu Matsuhisa.
Here the signature black cod is so beautifully prepared it’s a wonder all the other fish don’t leap out of the Mediterranean and form an orderly queue at the door to applaud.
Our nine-day Southern Spanish Sun sojourn from Barcelona to Dover took in many European must-see cities such as the Roman port of Cartagena and Malaga, where we took a 30-minute drive down the winding coastal road to visit the village of Mijas and its Contemporary Art Museum with world-beating Picasso collection.
Another day we docked in Gibraltar, from where you can take in the amazing views of the villages of southern Spain and towering tips of Morocco’s Atlas Mountains across the sea.
Its famous brown tailless Barbary apes run wild on The Rock.
The locals believe Gibraltar will remain British territory as long as the apes are present so they are fed every day and sent to the Royal Navy hospital when they are sick.
|Crystal Serenity: One of the world’s most elegant ships [PH]|
Overnight we sailed onwards to Lisbon, where a 10-hour stopover allowed time for a tour of the Estoril Formula One racetrack, lunch in the chocolate box fishing village of Cascais and a stroll through the cobbled alleyways of the millennium-old Alfama district.
Our final stop was Bordeaux, winemaking capital of the world, famed for producing red and whites since the Romans planted grapes in its fertile soil.
We spent the afternoon in the city’s fascinating Jewish district, focused around the vast Great Synagogue on Causserouge Street.
Crystal Serenity sails many routes.
After Dover she headed for Copenhagen, followed by a trip around the British Isles.
You can keep track of the ship’s progress via webcam on Crystal Cruises’ website.
As I write this she’s docked at dusk in the Canary Islands.
I can see some lucky blighter lazily leaning out of his penthouse balcony with a flute of something sparkling in his hand, no doubt contemplating the black cod in sweet miso sauce waiting for him at Silk Road later that night.